Germany has a continental climate, but boasts some of the most northerly vineyard sites in the world and, as it is sometimes difficult for grapes to ripen in such a northerly climate, the sugar maturity of the fruit is of utmost importance. Therefore the appellation system is quite different from that of most other countries, and the primary factor governing the classification of German wine is unique to Germany: this is the sugar content of the grapes when harvested, known as the Oechsle Scale.
Germany has a long history of wine production, and the oldest vineyard sites go back to Roman times. Today there are 13 defined regions for quality wine, and the country has the steepest vineyard in Europe – the practically sheer Bremmer-Calmont on the Mosel.
Germany is also credited for the discovery of Botrytis, or Noble Rot in 1775 at the Schloss Johannisberg estate, situated just off the River Rhine. This was the result of a happy accident, as so many great gastronomic discoveries are. Now this style is much emulated by dessert winemakers, and German sweet wines are some of the most sought after in the world.
White wine accounts for about two thirds of the total production, but the demand for German red wine has increased, and Spätburgunder, which is what the Germans call Pinot Noir, is the quality red grape. Riesling is of course the classic German grape variety, and no other country makes Riesling quite like the Germans - the wines of the Mosel and Rhine can be of outstanding quality making them justifiably famous.